Many of us will be familiar with the much-loved Christian hymn ‘It is well with my soul.’ But the backstory to this song sheds a powerful light on its hope-filled lyrics. Horatio Spafford, the writer of the hymn, was no stranger to suffering. Horatio lost much of his worldly wealth and properties in a fire in Chicago in 1871. Around the same time his four-year-old son died of scarlet fever. Yet, despite these incredible losses and personal suffering He was held by an unshakeable hope in God.
Lurching forward in the wake of this tragedy, Horatio thought his family could do with some time away.
A rest and a change of place.
Planning to join them when his business interests were completed, Horatio watched his wife and four daughters board a ship to England, kissing them farewell and waving goodbye as they sailed across the Atlantic Ocean.
Horatio would never lay eyes on his daughters again. A terrible collision at sea caused their ship to sink, costing the lives of more than 200 people, including every single one of Horatio’s daughters.
How do you process such an enormous loss and tragedy?
I can only begin to imagine the pain, the immense trauma he must have experienced upon hearing the news.
Horatio boarded the next ship to England. The captain, aware of the great tragedy, alerted Horatio when they were passing the spot where his daughters breathed their last breaths. Standing on the bow of the ship, looking down at the raging waves below, the ebb and flow of the tides, Horatio wrote these words:
“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul”
A Supernatural Hope
Horatio, despite the immense suffering of his circumstances, was deeply held by hope. The hope he had come to know was supernatural, pervasive, and powerful, reaching through the thick smog of despair and lighting the flame of peace and wellness in his soul, even in his darkest hour.
Centuries before Horatio penned his hymn of defiant hope, the author of Lamentations grasped this same supernatural wellness of soul. He recounts his suffering and trials, but in the midst of it all, he recalls the goodness of God, and therefore he has hope.
“Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.”
A heavenly hope
Heavenly hope does not deny or diminish or airbrush our earthly sufferings. God knows that we face deep sorrow and pain in this life. But in all our trials, we have an anchor that can stabilize and sustain us through our darkest days. The defiant hope of the writer of Lamentations and of Horatio Stafford can be yours.
I pray that today you, like Horatio Spafford would be filled with held with a heavenly hope, and that your soul would be well.
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